On Rape and Pragmatism
Something not often noted in the discussion of rape across the globe is that in an age that prizes pragmatism as opposed to firm principles of conduct, even rape can be excused based on the expected benefit to the rapist versus injury to the victim.
If one doesn't care about the basic principle of consent, of voluntariness of human relationships – as many do not do so – why worry that victims of rape don't have their rights respected? Consider how proudly Nobel Laureate (and NYTimes columnist) Paul Krugman, for instance, and even President Obama champion the pragmatic approach to public policies! Since ideas have consequences, this should not be ignored.
Some think one can simply differentiate between principles pertaining to personal conduct – i.e., ethics or morality – and guidelines concerning public policy, such as how to deal with public finance. If it is pragmatically okay to carry unbelievably high national debt, with no concern about the consent of those who will have to cover it (members of future generations who aren't even alive or able to give their consent to being burdened with it), why not just be pragmatic about anything at all.
Strictly speaking, for pragmatists it is all a matter of whether something works and that is determined by what one is aiming for, never mind any principles. It is usually Machiavelli who is credited with promoting this line of thinking but in our time it is usually the more vulgar (but even not so vulgar) pragmatists who peddle it! So in the case of rape, the pragmatist would ask whether it is sufficiently pleasurable to rapists when they assault their victims to outweigh the pain and injury of the victim(s).
I do not assume that rapists normally engage in such cost-benefit calculations but these things tend to become second nature based on one's ideas. Since ideas do have consequences, it can be expected that the spread of the pragmatic approach with the help of prominent folks like Krugman and Obama would aid and abet the kind of conduct that led to the murder of the young Indian woman. Those six or so men who decided to rape her – and thousands of other rapists – may very well have internalized the pragmatic approach. (And since what works or doesn't work can often only be established after a policy has been implemented, without principled opposition to rape and other forms of assault, it is easily imagined that potential perpetrators will "calculate" so as to rationalize their own strong urges or desires.)
A hero of mine, the late Ayn Rand, used to ask in the title of one of her non-fiction works, Philosophy, Who Needs it?, and here is an excellent instance for answering that we all do, at some level of engagement. Pragmatism – or at least its vulgarized version (since more sophisticated ones tend to resist deploying it in such barbaric ways) – is a philosophy that has become influential in America. (Indeed, it had its origins in America, with the thinking of such figures as C. I. Lewis, John Dewey, and most radically Richard Rorty.)
Not unless pragmatism is rejected as a reigning public philosophy, with the president of the country and prominent intellectuals such as Paul Krugman repudiating it good and hard, will folks once again take principles seriously and think twice before they ignore the basic human rights of women as they consider intercourse with them.
It would be catastrophic if instead of spreading the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence, America left a legacy of spreading pragmatism around the globe.
Tibor Machan is a member of the Advisory Board for The Foundation for the Advancement of Free-Market Thinking (FAFMT) and the R. C. Hoiles Professor of Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University in Orange, CA.
Posted by IndyLyn on 01/31/13 01:57 PM
R J Rushdoony, in his Humanist Manifesto called humanism 'a metaphysics … veiled behind a facade of pragmatism."
And I would agree with him and Mr. Machan on the pragmatic aspects of rape, whether bodily rape of my person, my land or financial property, or my individual mental, emotional being. With humanism so obviously dominating our society, we can expect nothing else but pragmatism (and I would go so far to say 'evil' actions).
Posted by dotti on 01/31/13 09:23 AM
Dr. Machan, Great food for thought. This nation was founded on the basis of individual rights. Now we are well into the process of shaming and shouting down anyone who would even consider the rights of the individual above those of "society".
The REAL shame is that in the end society in general fails and falls into tyranny once the individual's rights are usurped. I consider it ignorance, stupidity, arrogance, or a combination that causes our 'leaders' to think that it is an improvement upon society to subjugate the rights of the individual to the needs of the society. In the end, most of the benefit derived from this abrogation of individual rights is accrued by the elite ruling class. Crumbs go to everyone else.
My own views on wealth have significantly changed. I never had envy or malice toward the wealthy. I believed that in a capitalist society there will be those who for one reason or another will have more. I find myself conflicted over the folks who are anti-1%ers or anti-rich. I think that their motives are entirely wrong-they do not understand capitalism-but they are right that something is terribly wrong.
The corruption at all levels-the most corruption at the highest levels-makes it virtually impossible to feel that we are living in a society that is ruled by true capitalism rather than chrony capitalism. Billionaires, who themselves attained their wealth through corrupt methods, and who continue in their corrupt ways, have the nerve to set altruistic goals for the rest of us-and force them upon us.
You referred to the children who will be brought into the slavery of debt that they never consented to. I do not feel that I consented to this debt either. And it makes me angry when I see the view that 'well, we did it to ourselves; we voted them into office; this is a democracy, you know.' I am not responsible for who anyone else votes for. And as long as no viable candidate reflects my views-or if they are viable, they are thwarted-I will never accept responsibility for the ills of this country. I refuse to be guilted (yes, it is a verb!) into thinking it is my fault!
I loved the way you developed the idea of the importance of the lack of consent using rape as an example. There can be no individual freedom if our consent is not necessary and we are literally forced to behave as slaves.
Dr. Machan, I have written this hurriedly and don't have time to be sure that it accurately conveys what I wanted to, but rather than wait to post until much later, I wanted to go ahead and get it on the boards. Bottom line is that you have provided a very thought provoking insight. Thanks.
Posted by jdwheeler42 on 01/31/13 06:46 AM
I'm sorry, I think this is a weak argument against pragmatism. Sure, from the rapists point of view, rape might be pragmatic, but from society's point of view, it clearly is not. The pleasure the rapist gets is fleeting, the pain the one being raped endures lasts for a very, very long time, so we can say that rape is evil on purely pragmatic grounds.
Posted by Joe on 01/31/13 06:24 AM
All governments are hypocritical and engage in violence. Obama can easily kill hundreds of children in a foreign land and he very often does. And at the same time he can appear on TV and shed fake tears for American school children murdered by a lone gun man. The duplicity of Obama and others like him is completely ignored. Here in the United Kingdom, Obama is regarded as a saint just because he is mixed race (mostly considered black) and President and he is a member of the non Republican Democrats party, even if he is George Bush the Third in policy and outlook.
Posted by WorkingClass on 01/31/13 04:00 AM
You confuse pragmatism with evil. The powers that be are not pragmatists. They are thieves. Our children will not struggle to repay the debt created by our corporate masters. They will be paupers if not slaves. They will find little comfort in philosophy.
Obama as rapist is a new one. I have been told he is a Kenyan, a Communist and a Muslim. I would think it enough that he is a murderor and a traitor.
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 01/31/13 12:37 AM
If you don't want it, kill your baby. If you don't like what they are doing, or you want their stuff, kill foreigners. If it is more profitable to be extremely cruel to the animals you are raising, by all means, go right ahead. Bilk the people by selling them poison and calling it medicine or food. Why not? If you bureaucratize your medical and retirement systems so fully that you can not afford to keep your elderly alive, just euthanize them. You can get away with any corruption, if you do it big enough.
The list goes on and on. These are the pragamatic ideas that we are spreading around the world.